What’s in Your Toolbox: Rachel Castle

by Ginny

Rachel Castle is an Australian designer/artist specializing in handmade homewares. She is known for her bright and punchy embroideries and screenprints of various phrases and witticisms, in addition to her abstract prints and patterns. It should come as no surprise that her studio tour is every bit as cheerful and full of color as her collections. Read on for a glimpse into the colorful world of Rachel Castle! — Ginny

1. Design*Sponge: What is in your toolbox?

Rachel Castle: At the moment, I am preparing for a show full of paintings at Koskela in Sydney. So the toolbox is very distinct:

  • About a billion paintbrushes, of which I only use 3, grrrrrr, and I do the naughty thing where I cut off the straggly ends with a pair of scissors.
  • Cloths and rags everywhere
  • A very heavy grade 500gsm pure linen, which has a specific “bump” to it that I really like, meaning the painted lines are naturally a little wonky, which I love.
  • 20 coffees, although I have moved into a new studio space and have a broken foot, so I can’t get as many coffees as I would normally. I have to ring and ask a nice friend to bring me one.
  • Computer, always. [It is a] constant reference, what would we do without it?
  • The good old-fashioned photocopier. I do a lot of designs on the computer with hand drawing and blow them up on the photocopier. The big black box I love to hate.
  • And all the paint. I would love to say I have every color, but I have every brand of the same colors, yellow, pink, orange, tiny bit of blue, and ALLLLL the fluro. Really hard to get great fluro.


2. Design*Sponge: Fill in the blank, “When I am in my studio, I feel _____________.”

Rachel Castle: When I’m in my studio I feel free.

Read the full post after the jump . . .

3. Design*Sponge: What is on the top shelves of your inspiration library right now?

Rachel Castle: Top shelf for inspiration in order:

  • Pinterest, wowser I just want to say a MASSIVE thank you to everyone who posts such wonderful images; it is just a bevy of goodness.
  • All the great blogs
  • All the magazines — I am old school; although I read the blogs like a terrier, I still and always will be a magazine junkie.
  • The Sartorialist, and always the Milanese — their colors are amazing


4. Design*Sponge: How do you keep yourself organized? Do you have an agenda book, and do you make to-do lists?

Rachel Castle: Because I juggle bedlinen, embroidery, print making and now painting (plus the children and a reno grrrrr), I work CONSTANTLY at keeping all the balls in the air. I answer all my emails immediately in order that they don’t spiral out of control and keep a MOLESKINE WEEKLY DIARY [with a] week to a view. My mother buys it for me EVERY Christmas without fail. Occasionally I will write a to do list, but the older I get, the more I would prefer to just do another “thing” than write a list about it. My mother has always said to me, “You are so heavenly minded, you’re no earthly use,” which as an optimist I take as a compliment. It means I forget to pack my passport for a holiday but NEVER forget to bring all the magazines.

5. Design*Sponge: If you could have one superhero (or magical) power, what would it be and why?

Rachel Castle: Just one more hand. It might only need 2 or 3 fingers, but just that extra little “helper” to hold the third of the three brushes rather than having to stick it between my teeth. But then I guess I’d need another eye to keep track of what was where, and that wouldn’t really be that attractive. I’ll stick with 2 hands, 2 eyes, and 2 legs PLEASEEEEEE (I have a broken foot at the moment, crutches are NO FUN).

6. Design*Sponge: What is the best advice you have ever received, and what is the one piece of advice you would offer to a young artist/designer?

Rachel Castle: The best piece of advice is never what anyone else tells you but what you tell yourself. You can hear lots of things from lots of different people, but I have discovered that when you really “learn” what you need to know, this is the best advice of all.

My three personal truths:

1. Make what YOU love, this is what makes you and your clients the happiest.

2. Shall I write this next one really quietly? “I DO BUSINESS LIKE A MAN.” I am too soft, a BIG softie; sometimes I tell myself to do business like my husband, to just take all the emotion out of it and tell it like it is. What this really means is “STICK UP FOR YOURSELF.” I am trying, but still not very good at this one.

3. Work hard. Two little words, but the truest of all. If I could teach my children anything, it would be this.

7. Design*Sponge: How do you combat creative blocks?

Rachel Castle: I listen to music. I go to choir. I get out of the studio and into the big world where you can’t help but be inspired. Oh and sometimes I just do my GST and suddenly, surprisingly, sound the trumpets, I am inspired to try to paint something wonderful.

8. Design*Sponge: Where do you like to shop for inspiration?

Rachel Castle: I ALWAYS love the bookshops at art galleries. I ALWAYS buy something and ALWAYS want to buy everything.

9. Design*Sponge: If you could peek inside the studio/toolbox of any designer/artist/craftsperson, whose would it be and why?

Rachel Castle: Tracy Emin and Louise Bourgeois. They are both seminal and prolific and intriguing and unique. They just do their own crazy little thing, and I find them both fascinating.

10. Design*Sponge: If you could make a master mix-tape of music that is inspiring you at the moment, what would it be?

Rachel Castle: Anything from The Pogues to Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, to choral voice recordings to classical radio. Anything at all. I am a bit random with my music. And with all vacuous new music, [I] love it one day, loathe it the next. Only my golden oldies I love forever.

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  • Great post! I loved seeing her studio. So much white with all of the bright colors. Can I have one just like it? Her 3 personal truths are great. Especially the “do business like a man” tip. It’s something I’m working on myself!

  • Oh, this was wonderful! Very inspiring! I wish I hadn’t read it at work (shhh) because now I just want to get back into my studio and create something! Wonderful work & best of luck!
    -Zie Darling

  • Gorgeous fun peeks! I love seeing inside Rachel’s studio and her tool box. She has a great sense of color and shapes. How fun to have a chat with her. Thanks, Design*Sponge!

  • Hooray for Australians!

    So inspiring and a wonderful post.

    I am taking the “do business like a man” advice – I need to take the emotion out of it.

    I Love your studio – I have room/studio size envy. I have the a shared office room with a trestle table as a workspace for now, and of course I want it so much bigger. I dream of a studio like yours.
    I think yours is going in my inspiration folder.

    Wishing you a speedy recovery with your foot and glad you didn’t have to represent us in the Olympics with running :)

    best wishes

    Loulou (brisbane, Australia)

  • Thanks everyone for your lovely posts. Can I just say that I didn’t take any photos of the ‘other’ bad side of the studio. The one stuffed with boxes and cushion inserts and bubble wrap. You know the ugly bubble wrap with brown sticky tape all over? Ooooh makes me shudder. It is so ugly you would all laugh out loud. The nice side is really nice, the ugly side is really ugly! RCx

  • great interview! rachel comes across exactly like the art she creates – completely effervescent, uplifting and inspiring.

  • I love hearing how creative people excercise their creativity in different fields: art, music, design, fashion, etc. It’s so neat that Rachel is involved in choir–gotta exercise your mind!